On Music


Meeting my girlfriend in Central London on one occasion, I crossed a bustling Leicester Square with a spot of Killswitch Engage crunching into my ear drums. Now although I don’t consider myself an imposing person myself, being a fairly shaggy man – 6’3 with an unkempt Hendrix-esque afro on top – it’s perhaps understandable that those who don’t know me might. The sun was beating down, a perfectly glorious day, and as I approached my better half, she shot me something of a quizzical look.

‘Is everything okay?’ she asked me as I unplugged myself from the musical maelstrom, to which I smiled and answered back with an ‘of course’.

Apparently, she’d been watching me cross the square and saw upon my face a look of absolute thunder.

‘No wonder people were moving out of the way!’ she laughed. I had been completely oblivious.

Of course, music does strange things to people, and I’ve realised that the track to which I’m listening will often dictate my behaviour, however unconsciously. I listen to metal when I’m moving across a busy centre of town and it strikes me that I transform from a man with a relatively laid back demeanour into a person exuding a terrible threat of violence should one get in my way.

Music can set the heart racing, pumping adrenaline through the veins. With my earplugs in, I seal myself away in my own little bubble, and unplanned intrusion – physical or otherwise – is in danger of being met with a dark look.

Slayer turns me into a stereotypical Londoner. No patience, no time, no consideration.

Of course, different music has different effects. As a man who enjoys the silver screen and who absorbs a lot of music, it’s difficult to not ascribe a soundtrack to one’s own life at times. Certainly if I’m trying to write a scene with a precise emotional resonance, I’ll often hastily assemble a playlist to illicit such an emotion, be it anger, sadness, joy, or that feeling of floaty romantic giddiness that can only be captured by that ethereal indie track I once heard in an offbeat film starring Joseph Gordon Levitt or Paul Dano.

I’m highly susceptible to music, and it fuses itself within me, biding itself to memories and holding fast like some sort of aural chemical reaction. There are songs that never fail to lighten the spirit or lift the heart; there are songs powerful enough to rouse me from a stupor and make me feel like I can do anything to which I set my mind; there are ballads of such longing that I just want to sink into them in times of sadness and wallow or, sometimes, drown.

And then, of course, there are songs, rare songs, and pieces of music that demand nothing of you except for your complete and utter attention. These are the things that demand you give yourself over to the music utterly, not use it to pick out a stimulus driven by your own emotion but charge you with understanding the musical object itself. It’s something that I’ve often found difficult at times, so much of music is making the thing in question relatable – giving it some meaning by making it a footnote to one’s own feelings and experiences all too quickly.

I realise since the advent off the digital age, I spend far less time properly listening to music. I don’t mean jacking in when going for a run or stepping onto the Tube. But listening to music as both the means and the end. Enjoying music for itself and nothing else, not as a time-wasting device nor as an enhancement for some other more primary activity, nor as an emotional antidote, but taking the time to appreciate a record, a song, a movement.

Yet as I write this, I’m resolving to change that. This Sunday afternoon shall offer nothing except Led Zeppelin I-IV, and I can’t wait.